Easy to Confuse: Many and Much

At a certain point in learning to speak, read, and write English, we arrive at a point where something sounds right or sounds wrong. (This is a key reason why the best way to proofread is to read what you wrote aloud so you can hear mistakes as well as see them.) However, it can take a long time to get to that level of understanding, and some rules and word choices can leap from a page we’re reading and totally confuse us. Let’s talk about many and much.

If you can count the thing you are talking about, use many to refer to them.

  • I have many reasons for reading this book.

(You can’t count motivation or logic but you can count reasons.)

  • How many times have you gone fishing?

(You can’t count time—only measure it in days or hours or seconds, which can be counted—but you can count specific times something happens.)

  • Of course, these games offer many challenges that are fun to beat.

(You can’t count competition or opposition, but you can count challenges.)

  • Many of our friends go to the same school.

(Here, the many and what is being referred to, friends, are separated by a couple words, but notice those words could be removed (Many friends go to the same school) and the sentence would still make sense.

If you can’t count the thing you are talking about, use much to refer to it.

  • This much trouble might discourage me from trying.

(You can count problems or consequences, but we don’t count trouble.)

  • It is with much joy that I tell you this good news.

(You can’t count joy…or happiness, glee, or even giddiness.)

  • People love this town, but I worry about how much traffic there is on Main Street.

(You can count cars and trucks, but you can’t count the traffic.)

  • The temperature is much too high right now.

(Like time, we don’t count temperature—we measure it with different systems of degrees such as Celsius and Fahrenheit and even Kelvin…but we don’t count temperature.)

You get the idea. Use many with what we count, and use much with what we don’t count (generally called noncount nouns or collective nouns, if you must know.) Once you learn many rules, you will be much too intelligent!

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